SC Rejects Petition for Probe into Rafale Deal

The Supreme Court refused to order an investigation of the Rafale deal, citing the inherent limitations of its power to undertake a judicial review of “sensitive” defence contracts and its lack of expertise in scrutinising pricing or technical feasibility. The move was welcomed by the government and condemned by its critics.

The bench led by chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi dismissed pleas to order a probe into corruption allegations by former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie among others.

“We are satisfied that there is no occasion to really doubt the process, and even if minor deviations have occurred that would not result in either setting aside the contract or requiring a detailed scrutiny by the court,” the bench said. “We find no reason for any intervention on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 defence aircraft…. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters.”

The petitioners alleged that the government had pulled a 2001 deal to buy 126 jets at a lower price only to conclude a fresh deal in 2015 to buy 36 jets at a higher price. The government disputed this claim, saying the cost escalation was on account of add-ons in terms of avionics and armaments.

The petitioners alleged a conspiracy at the highest level to defraud the exchequer and favour the Anil Ambani group chosen as offset partner by French aviation company Dassault, which makes the Rafale. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had made the Rafale deal his main point of attack related to corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP ahead of the recent assembly polls, which saw the Congress beating its rival in three states.

Sinha, Shourie and the other petitioners said they were disappointed that the court had taken a “conservative view of judicial review” in cases alleging corruption in defence deals involving high functionaries.

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